Good afternoon.

Please join me, again, in thanking Karen Springer of St. Thomas Health for greeting us this afternoon as well as Mike Keith for graciously accepting the role as our emcee.

We are grateful for the use of this first-class facility, and Mike, I appreciate your introduction and for setting the tone for this important occasion.

Whether you are among our distinguished guests here on location or part of our statewide audience via the live Webcast, thank you for joining me today to learn more about the state of your University.

If I seem a bit more structured than usual or focused on a select few outlined points, it’s because I am.

There’s a lot to tell, but I hope this is the first of what will be a tradition of formally sharing with you the state of the University of Tennessee.

This is a message of progress and position. And since I don’t have the luxury of taking all afternoon to hit the high points, I will use the next several minutes to update you on select successes of our System and confirm our position on several issues of significance.

I will also acknowledge the investment and support of the many groups and individuals who make our progress and success possible.


Before I introduce a few of the distinguished guests who are with us today, let me first acknowledge the significance of this location.

For those watching by Webcast, I’m delighted to speak to you from the Linda and Mike Curb Institute for Advanced Medical Education at St. Thomas West Hospital in Nashville.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Saint Thomas Health System have offered a limited residency program for more than 30 years, but in recent years, that collaboration has expanded. Given this expansion, I thought it was appropriate to come to you from this facility.

Last year, the Health Science Center and Saint Thomas Health System announced plans to increase the partnership to train medical residents in a variety of specialties with plans for future expansion in research collaboration, dental education and health professions education.

Over the next three years, the number of residents at Saint Thomas hospitals will grow six-fold from 32 to 200, and the Health Science Center plans to construct a $40 million facility adjacent to Saint Thomas West Hospital.

With that, join me in thanking Don King, President and CEO of St. Thomas Midtown and St. Thomas West Hospitals, Jessica Wells and other members of the St. Thomas team for their partnership with the University of Tennessee and for allowing the use of this beautiful facility for this inaugural State of the University event.

Audience Introductions

Now, let me take a moment to introduce a few important groups that are represented today and play a significant role in our governance, operations and overall success:

  • Members of the UT Board of Trustees;
  • Members of our legislative delegation and other government officials; and
  • The chancellors of our UT campuses and statewide institutes, along with members of UT System administration.

I would also like to recognize the group of individuals in the white coats who greeted you this afternoon. They are Health Science students who are in the residency program at St. Thomas.

And finally, I would like to call your attention to three very special individuals who, along with a few of their distinguished colleagues, will be presented more formally following my address—the very first University of Tennessee President’s Award Winners and campus nominees.

State of the University

I know it takes up valuable time to recognize people when you have programs like these. But as you have heard me say consistently over the past five years, we have no more important focus than our people—whether our students, faculty, staff, administrators or the citizens of the State of Tennessee.

And, it is because of my great respect for the people we serve that I felt the compelling need to come before you in such a formal manner this afternoon.

Over the past several months, the campuses and institutes of the University of Tennessee have enjoyed countless successes. But, like so many of our peers, we have also experienced challenges and situations that have caused us to scratch our heads, rethink some of our approaches, and renew and redirect our energy and resources.

As the leader of a state institution that has a responsibility to both internal and external publics, I believe that those within the UT community, as well as the public at large, deserve to hear directly from me about where we are, where we are going, how we benefit the people of this state, and what you can do to move your statewide university forward.

It’s about taking pride in ownership. Because regardless of whether you are a student, an employee, a graduate of one our institutions, benefitted from our services or outreach, or simply remember attending a 4-H camp in the state, you have a stake in what we do at the University of Tennessee.

Outcomes & Impact

Evaluating the success of who we are and what we do as a University involves so much more than telling a few warm and fuzzy stories that demonstrate our accomplishments.

The greatest testament to our success is found in our ability to skillfully attract and retain the best and brightest students, graduating talented and well-trained professionals who become productive citizens and experts in their disciplines; and making positive contributions to the quality of life for those who call Tennessee home.

Simply put, we are a people-based organization. So, the story of our success lies in our outcomes and our impact on behalf of people.


Progress on our most recent metrics, as set by the UT Board of Trustees, tell us that the University is moving in the right direction:

Since the implementation of the Complete College Tennessee Act, our System-wide graduation rate has increased 7% and the number of degrees we have awarded has increased by more than 11%.

System-wide, retention is near 80%.

This is progress, but we must keep moving ahead.

The key metrics for our System in the areas of research, fundraising, and outreach and engagement also demonstrate that our progress is more than anecdotal.

In fiscal 2015, the University of Tennessee collectively generated $436 million in research and sponsored projects; we registered combined outreach to more than 4.7 million people statewide; and we raised a record $303 million in gifts, pledges and bequests.

The University of Tennessee’s impact on our state’s economy is no less impressive.

The most recent measure of our economic impact comes in at about $4.8 billion across the System, and we are credited with creating or impacting some 75,000 jobs across the State.

Campus Progress

One by one, our extraordinary fleet of institutions are demonstrating their tremendous strength and true spirit of what it means to be a part of the University of Tennessee.

UT Knoxville

As UT Executive Vice President David Millhorn says, you can’t have a fleet without a flagship, and our flagship, the University of Tennessee Knoxville, with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek at the helm, is leading the way in our effort to educate, discover and connect.

Last year, UT Knoxville garnered international attention as we won the single-largest grant ever received in our history–$70 million from the Department of Energy. This funding established the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a UT-led consortium with 122 members in six states.

With additional funding of $189 million from IACMI partners, the total investment is $259 million in UT-led efforts to support innovation in manufacturing and materials.

In conjunction with the Knoxville campus, the University of Tennessee also saw its contract to manage Oak Ridge National Lab with UT Battelle extended through the year 2020.

In a recent evaluation by DOE, we received our highest score ever and praise for our joint appointment program between Oak Ridge and UT.

UT Knoxville’s focus on research and innovation is a primary factor in attracting outstanding faculty and students to the campus. The February 1st release of the 2015 Carnegie Classifications in which UTK ranked as a research university with the highest activity of research confirms its place among the nation’s top institutions.

UT Chattanooga

With a new strategic plan, a renewed commitment to building community, and an energetic leader in Chancellor Steve Angle, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is truly setting the standard for regional metropolitan universities.

Nationally recognized for community service and engagement, UT Chattanooga is generating great excitement with several new construction and renovation projects. Last year, I joined the university community in celebrating a beautiful, new 180,000 square-foot library, which opened with great fanfare and wide support from the UTC faithful.

In recent months, UTC has hired its first vice chancellor for research, its first director of community partnerships, named a new head of its SIM Center and its first vice chancellor for communications and marketing.

These strategic hires demonstrate UT Chattanooga’s commitment to furthering its high-tech entrepreneurial vision, developing mutually beneficial partnerships with its community, and telling its story more broadly and strategically.

UT Martin

We’re making positive strides in West Tennessee as well.

Under the interim leadership of Chancellor Bob Smith, who recently agreed to extend his appointment with us through December 31 of this year, the University of Tennessee at Martin is aggressively advancing its mission and serving the needs of its community.

This unique campus is UT’s largest provider of online education and has more off-campus centers than any other public four-year university in the state. Not only is UT Martin a major producer of teachers, but 85% of its education graduates stay in West Tennessee upon completing their studies.

In speaking of UT Martin, I recognize there are some with concerns about challenges around enrollment and accreditation. Be assured that addressing those challenges is a priority for all of us. These are fixable issues, and we are confident that Martin will achieve full accreditation status next year.

In spite of this, UT Martin has maintained its focus on its students and primary mission. While we were proud of its previous ranking at Number 4 in the State for CCTA metrics, it should be noted that UT Martin captured the Number 1 ranking in these metrics last year.

UT Health Science Center

Our UT Health Science Center, which I referenced earlier, is also a major powerhouse in the UT System. Under Chancellor Steve Schwab’s leadership, it contributes nearly $2 billion a year to the Memphis economy and is responsible for more than 26,000 jobs across the state.

If the Governor’s recent budget recommendations are supported by the legislature, the footprint and impact of the Health Science Center will continue to grow in meaningful ways to the State as we anticipate $39 million in funding, as mentioned earlier, for a new Dentistry faculty practice and research facility and resources to the tune of $3 million to fund pediatric physician scientists.

And then, there are our statewide institutes of Agriculture and Public Service.

UT Institute of Agriculture

Under the capable leadership of Chancellor Larry Arrington, the UT Institute of Agriculture is delivering real life solutions to people across the state every day.

Through $54.5 million in research, educational outreach to some 3.3 million people, and veterinary services to more than 21,000 animals annually, our Institute of Agriculture is touching the lives of Tennesseans in every county of the state in very tangible ways.

One recent example is the 2015 acquisition of Lone Oaks Farm, a new 1,200-acre site for a 4-H Camp and Conference Center.

This property is a jewel for Tennessee 4-Hers and the state. The beautiful facilities and outstanding locale are considered by many as being among the best in the country.

UT Institute for Agriculture

And last, but certainly not least, IPS:

Under the newly appointed leadership of Dr. Herb Byrd, our Institute for Public Service, with its five primary agencies, responded to more than 28,000 requests for assistance and trained nearly 15,000 people in government, business, and law enforcement last year.

Additionally, the IPS team of experts helped businesses generate more than $817 million in economic impact in fiscal 2015.

As you can see, if you are affiliated with UT, there is a lot to be proud of. And, this is only a fraction of who we are and what we do.

But, in spite of these successes, we recognize that, currently, there are many issues that are overshadowing our progress and our efforts to advance our University’s mission.

The Role of Higher Education

Before I get to some of those issues, however, let me say a few words about the value of a college education and our continuing efforts to make it both accessible and affordable.

Without question, higher education is a major driver in our state’s overall success, and it should never be forgotten that the University of Tennessee is one of this state’s most elite vehicles for advancing its social and economic agenda.

But the truth of the matter is, we also exist for a broader and more noble purpose—One that has less to do with generating dollars and cents and more with contributing to the development of productive and responsible citizens.

This purpose extends beyond our students to our faculty and staff, with hopes of offering those outside of our walls an opportunity to see the transformative power of education on individuals from all walks of life.

Given the growing investment of time, energy and financial resources that are part of obtaining a college education, we may never all agree on the value of a college degree. But, I would rather spend my time defending its value and making education more affordable and accessible than watching students and their families give up on their academic dreams because the cost of college is beyond their reach.

This is part of what prompted my commitment to changing the business model at UT.

Changing the Business Model

Just over a year ago, I realized that, long term, we faced some issues that would negatively impact our ability to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of those we serve.

I did not want to see our students and their parents or even the next generation of UT leaders have to shoulder challenges in the future that we had the capacity to address today.

So, I formed a Budget Advisory Group to address projected gaps between our funding needs and funding sources. That group developed a plan, which included budget boundaries approved by our Board and set in motion with the current fiscal year.

From our initial projection in 2014 of a $377 million funding gap, expected to develop over the next decade, we have now cut that projection to $247 million. That is thanks, in part, to increased state support that was unanticipated in 2014.

Another almost $50 million in relief has come through our own reduction or reallocation of expenditures through steps such as voluntary early retirement at many of our campuses.

Additionally, we have eliminated or reallocated vacant positions to fill other strategic needs, and we have worked to streamline, consolidate and eliminate administrative redundancies.

These self-imposed actions have allowed us to hold tuition increases in the current fiscal year to their lowest levels in more than 30 years.

Given our commitment to taking responsibility for addressing the tuition issue and getting off to a good start, we are disappointed by a bill that has been proposed to freeze tuition and suggests that UT salaries are at the root of tuition increases.

In the days ahead, we look forward to voicing our opposition of this bill and bringing clarity around our administrative costs in comparison to our peers. Be assured that our Budget Advisory Group will continue to explore this issue and bring forth recommendations to effectively manage our costs.

On a more positive note, I am pleased that the new year’s budget recommendations outlined in the Governor’s State of the State Address look strong for the University.

No one is more grateful than I for the support the governor and legislature demonstrated in our most recent budget and for the Governor’s recommendations to fully fund the outcomes formula and several of our top capital outlay and capital maintenance priorities. Even so, I continue to reiterate that sustainable funding remains our problem to own, and we will solve it.

Ongoing Areas of Focus

Our students, faculty and staff are at the heart of our commitment to addressing our business model challenges because we know they have a choice in where they study and work.

For our students and prospective students, our focus will be on:

  • Enhancing awareness around our application, enrollment and financial aid processes to make it easier to enroll in one of our institutions;
  • Re-energizing our advising efforts to ensure more targeted, hands-on support to foster student progression, retention and graduation;
  • Aggressively engaging our campus communities in safeguarding the accreditation status of each of our campuses;
  • Dedicating ourselves to greater investments in our graduate students, as they help educate our undergraduates and play a significant role in our short- and long-term research goals;
  • Developing and maintaining state-of-the-art facilities that are conducive to learning and innovation; and
  • Ensuring the existence of quality academic programs that keep our students at the forefront of trends in their disciplines and technology.

Our commitment to faculty and staff will also be evident. A couple of examples can be seen in our plans for addressing salaries and enhancements in our overall work environment.

Salary Gap

As I have reported before, we have an estimated salary gap of nearly $84 million. Addressing this gap has been a priority since I took this job and will require continued strategic planning and creativity, over a period of time.

While we were disappointed that there was no State recommendation for a separate salary pool for increases in the budget recommendations for next year as there has been in the past, we remain committed to exploring ways to make and keep our salaries competitive so that we can retain and attract the highest quality workforce available.

Employer of Choice

We will also continue our formal efforts to make the University of Tennessee an “Employer of Choice”. I firmly believe when organizations care about their people and have a strong, well-developed climate of excellent talent management, everybody wins.

I have approved the incorporation of the Employer of Choice model into our refreshed strategic plan. This means the initiative is one of our strategic priorities and will be resourced appropriately.

With the help of our System-wide Compensation Advisory Board and offices of human resources, we will strive toward a model work environment at UT that is enviable among our higher education peers and other organizations across the country.

Reputation Management and Diversity

But, to move closer to this kind of world-class reputation as a university of choice, it is imperative that we maintain an environment in which freedom of expression, tolerance, personal accountability and responsible citizenship are an integral part of the living, learning and working experience.

In recent months, I have heard from countless stakeholders regarding these very issues, especially as they relate to our position on diversity and inclusion.

To all those who make up the UT community and those who are looking at us from afar, let me be clear when I say that the University of Tennessee values and is committed to the fundamental tenets of advancing diversity and inclusion.

Our concept of and commitment to diversity extend beyond race and ethnicity. Diversity encompasses many other aspects of this ideal—including, but not limited to, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, geography, physical ability, socioeconomic status, and family educational attainment, among others.

Major national corporations such as Comcast, General Motors, MGM Resorts and Xerox all promote their interest in attracting and maintaining a diverse corps of highly trained employees. The same is true for many of our top Tennessee companies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Eastman, FedEx, and Nissan, just to name a few.

Companies like these have an expectation that today’s graduates will be prepared with the proper competencies to live and work in diverse, global environments where there are great differences in ideas, cultures, opinions and lifestyles.

This does not mean that we seek to create an environment at UT in which everyone agrees with all of the ideas and approaches to life that they encounter. Rather, we hope to encourage a mutual respect and appreciation for all members of our community and promote opportunities for broader understanding of both our differences and our commonalities.

We will continue to assess our climate around such matters as diversity, the various components of Title IX and the living and learning culture across all of UT.

But, as we do this, we will also be committed to educating our community about the valid interests, concerns and values of other stakeholders whose perspectives are also important because they have a vested interest in or have made commitments to our success. These include our alumni, parents, lawmakers, donors, and the taxpayers at large.

The University system is a $2.1 billion enterprise, which secures its educational and general funding support, both restricted and unrestricted, from multiple sources. Chief among them are–tuition and fees to the tune of nearly 29%; gifts and contracts at approximately 27%; and state appropriations around 23%. This should make clear why we must give reasonable consideration to positions expressed by all of our key constituent groups.

But I contend, when it comes to issues of the University, it should never be a case of “us” versus “them.” Whether you are a faculty member or legislator, a current student or an alumnus, a Tennessee business owner or a fan of one of our athletics programs, how you choose to address the issues of the university impact us all.

My job as President will always be to provide leadership that supports what’s in the best interest of the UT community. As such, I will seek to encourage others who profess to have the best interests of the University at heart to commit themselves to helping us resolve our issues with a mindset of preserving our stature as one of the most dynamic, vibrant and productive university systems in the country.

Our future depends on it.

Over the past year, as we have grappled with several complex and sensitive issues plaguing many other universities across the country, we have become wiser. We have recognized our mistakes in attempting to address some issues, and we have come to grips with the importance of holding firm to our position on others.

But, what we have understood, above all, is the great value of open communication with our stakeholders—something that I, along with our Board and System administration, are taking a new look at.

Creating a shared sense of understanding about issues, consistency in our approach to resolving matters, and protecting the value of the University of Tennessee brand across the System will be even more important areas of focus for us as we move ahead.

Support and Advocacy

Regardless of your position or your role within the University of Tennessee, you have the opportunity to help ensure that this University continues to thrive and move in a positive, productive direction for many years to come.

First, I urge you to educate yourselves about the operations and the issues of our university.

If you haven’t done so, join the UT Advocacy Network. Once connected, you can learn how to individually and collectively advocate on behalf of the University and get inside information on legislation and issues that have the potential to impact our operations and our resources.

You are all well aware that the “long arm of government” is reaching further and further into the operations of UT in matters such as our governance and structure, policy decisions, maintenance of our facilities and even programs designed to support our students and campus communities.

We have to be vigilant when it comes to protecting our position on issues like these. Otherwise, we jeopardize our long-term ability to ensure that decisions about our University are made by those who know our communities best and are being held professionally accountable for their ongoing success.

Our Board of Trustees is actively engaged in our operations and effectively governs us. As far as I am concerned, we have a solid model and approach to governance and are best served when those of us charged with the oversight of our operations work in collaboration with our students, faculty, staff, and our Board to recommend and implement those things which are in the best interest of our communities.

Before I conclude, I know many of you are concerned, like I am, about the pending outcome of the State’s facilities management initiative, which involves a study of outsourcing facilities services across the State.

As indicated in my announcement to you last week, no decisions related to formally opting in or out were made today during a meeting on the matter that I attended on behalf of UT. We continue to uphold our commitment to the Governor to review all plans and available data before making any decisions.

I ask for your patience and trust as we move through this process and do what is in the best interest of our University community.


With that, let me conclude by saying—despite the many recent challenges that have created some very public distractions from our success, the true state of your University is very strong. And, we are accomplishing more and more, each and every day as we educate, discover and connect.

The metrics that define our success, including those that address the state’s educational goals, continue to trend in a positive direction.

With more than 362,000 alumni worldwide, and 200,000 right here in Tennessee, I am committed to providing the kind of leadership that assures our graduates that they made the very best decision in investing in a UT education.

To our current students and personnel, be assured that we will continue our progress on the things that matter most to you. And we will, with your help, foster a university climate that makes you proud to call the University of Tennessee your home.

Finally, to all others with a vested interest in what we do as a state university, we renew our commitment to being good stewards of all the resources entrusted to us and will work even harder to ensure that your interests in our operations are considered with our own.

But in doing these things, we must all remain focused on what really matters.

And that is serving the needs of deserving students who look to us to not only prepare them for the world of work but also a world which is far more complex and demanding than the one many of us experienced, even just a few decades ago.

I believe in the University of Tennessee and what we do here.

And, like actress Dale Dickey said when she recently received an honorary degree at UT Knoxville, I, too, often think of UT as standing for “Utter Tenacity.”

Together, we must show that tenacity by remaining steadfast in our support of those things that make the University of Tennessee great.

After all, our University System and our state have a growing reputation as a national leader in higher education, and the world is watching. What will they see?